August 23, 2005

World health leaders tackle hospital errors

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A global initiative to stop hospital
errors will focus on the old dictum "first, do no harm" by
encouraging health care workers to clean up their acts, health
officials said on Tuesday.

They said hospital employees all over the world should heed
the advice attributed to the ancient Greek physician
Hippocrates, and the best way to do that is improve hygiene

"Infection complicates the treatment and care of millions
of patients worldwide every year," Sir Liam Donaldson, Chair of
the World Alliance for Patient Safety, told a news conference.

"As a result, some patients become more seriously ill than
they would have been otherwise, some experience long-term
disability and some die."

The World Health Organization is trying to lead a
coordinated effort globally to reduce the errors, which the
U.S. Institute of Medicine estimates kill as many as 98,000
every year in the United States.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates as many as
1.3 million Americans are injured by medication errors every
year. The Health and Human Services Department has been working
on a nationwide electronic prescribing, records and inventory
control system to help reduce those errors.

Other countries have similar problems, and the new
collaboration will encourage hospitals to compare notes on what
works to reduce such errors.

"Patient safety has made significant strides in some parts
of the world during the past 10 years, thanks to a willingness
to acknowledge that adverse events occur in health care and
that a systematic approach must be employed to reduce the very
real risk of patient harm," Karen Timmons, chief executive
officer of the Joint Commission International, said in a

The effort by WHO, the nonprofit Joint Commission
International and its U.S. parent the Joint Commission on
Accreditation of Healthcare Resources, will focus on some of
the simpler issues first.

These include clean hands, clean practices, clean products,
a clean environment and clean equipment, Donaldson said.

Several studies have shown that doctors, nurses and other
health care workers routinely fail to wash their hands and
disinfect equipment.

Because continual hand washing can irritate skin and take
time, hospitals are finding solutions such as keeping hand
sanitizer by every door may work better.

And the group will also start a patient education campaign
urging patients to speak up if there are any questions about
care or hygiene and to designate a friend or relative to act as
an advocate.